There’s a small, yappy dog in our neighborhood. It has terrible owners who leave it outside all the time, and whenever it’s outside, it barks nonstop. I feel bad for the dog, because it’s clearly lonely and stressed, and I really dislike the owners for not being more responsible with their pet.
For the longest time, when that little dog would get going, our dogs would run into the backyard and start barking with it. This created a delightful feedback loop that was actually the opposite of delightful.
I’ve used positive reinforcement to train all of our dogs, so to stop them from this behavior, I started saying to them, “Hey! What do we do when that dog barks?” and giving them treats when they were quiet. After a few weeks of this, when that dog barks, they just go straight to the place in the kitchen where we keep the treats, sit, and wait for us to reward them. It’s been really awesome, and just saying “What do we do?” calms them down whenever they get worked up at anything outside, from people walking dogs to helicopters flying overhead, to the mailman delivering our tacos.
Seamus is a really smart dog, and he picks up on things really fast. Riley isn’t nearly as smart, and Marlowe is probably going to end up being as smart as Seamus, just as soon as she learns a little more self-control and better manners (she’s only 18 months, but she’s right on pace, as far as we’re concerned.) Seamus has figured out that he can bark once at absolutely nothing, then calm himself down, and go wait for treats. The other dogs usually run into the kitchen and join him. I don’t mind him thinking that he’s tricking us, because it just further reinforces the behavior we want, anyway.
So a couple of nights ago, Marlowe was next to Seamus, chewing on an antler* in the living room, and Seamus wanted it. He’s above her in pack status, so he could probably just take it, but he’s not like that with her. I watched him look at her, look at me in the kitchen, then look back at her. He barked once, and stood up. Marlowe jumped up, dropped the antler, and raced into the kitchen to the place where the treats are. Seamus calmly laid down, picked up the antler, and began to chew.
“Dude, that was amazing,” I said to him. I gave Marlowe a consolation treat, as he closed his eyes and chewed, contentedly.
*This is the best thing ever, for aggressive chewers. They are humanely gathered from places where they’ve already fallen off the deer or elk or whatever, washed and sterilized, and cut into varying lengths. It’s natural, doesn’t run the risks associated with bits of plastic or rawhide, and a large one lasts for about six months with Seamus and Marlowe, who are incredibly aggressive chewers.